John Wesley's Commentary on the Bible
Reviewed by Dr. Vic Reasoner

John Wesley's Explanatory Notes Upon the Old Testament were printed between 1765-6. He relied upon Matthew Henry, but stated openly that he had edited out all Henry's references to the doctrine of "absolute, irrespective, unconditional predestination." Wesley also relied on the commentary of Matthew Poole.

This three-volume set was never reprinted until 1975. I still remember how disappointed I was when my reprinted set arrived. Adam Clarke was right in his assessment, "The notes on the Old Testament are allowed, on all hands, to be meagre and unsatisfactory." In addition, the photocopy reprint of the old English type was difficult to read.

Wesley's Explanatory Notes Upon the New Testament, written in 1755, is also brief. He did not attempt to parade his knowledge; it was his purpose to assist the unlearned reader by writing simply and "to make the notes as short as possible." This doctrinal standard of Methodism has stayed in print in both one and two-volume bindings. Yet it is unfortunate that when Wesley came to the book of Revelation he decided to translate the writings of John Bengel, a German Lutheran. Those who read Wesley's notes on Revelation may not know that Wesley was simply providing the opinions of a well known scholar without necessarily endorsing his opinions. In his introduction to Revelation Wesley put the disclaimer, "Every part of this I do not undertake to defend."

Despite these limitations Wesley's Notes on both the Old and New Testament do have value. However, a complete five-volume set of notes on the whole Bible retails for $229.99. Wesley wanted to provide something within the financial grasp of the common person. He would not be pleased with the current cost of his unabridged set.

G. Roger Schoenhals had edited a one-volume condensation of the five-volume set. It was originally publishing in 1987 under the title Wesley's Notes on the Bible. In 1990 Zondervan Publishing House reprinted this edition as John Wesley's Commentary on the Bible.

To conserve space Schoenhals omitted the biblical text which was Wesley's own translation. However, he footnotes differences between Wesley's translation and the King James translation. He also omitted about two-thirds of Wesley's comments. Schoenhals assumed general background information could be found in any standard commentary. However, Schoenhals included every personal reference, every pastoral reflection and was sensitive to any theological statements. What we are left with has more of a devotional flavor. He extracts the gems and does not appear to impose his own agenda in the way Ralph Earle did with Adam Clarke's commentary (see my review in The Arminian, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1994). I only wish Schoenhals had kept Wesley's introductions to each book of the Bible instead of including just the introduction to Revelation.

I am not usually excited about abridgements; Wesley scholars often wish they had more material, not less, with which to work! This one-volume commentary could not be your only resource for Bible study. Yet this edition, at $29.95, puts the best of Wesley's comments on the whole Bible within the reach of lay readers and is sufficient for general study. However, it has been out of print since 1995. Hopefully, Zondervan will reprint it at some point in the future. We have some of the last copies available and will sell them for $29.95 plus postage/handling as long as they last.

Order from
Fundamental Wesleyan Publishers (FWP),
3080 Brannon Rd.,
Nicholasville, KY 40356-8749